[The Herald, 15 November 2006]
James Lobban devoted his entire life to the development of music in his native Aberdeen. A tall, ascetic figure who occupied a conductor's podium so often that few concerts seemed complete without him, he boundlessly enthused about his subject, persuading choirs and orchestras to strive that bit more in the furtherance of musical excellence.
Latterly, virtually every concert he conducted posted a "house full" notice. The fact that his face was rarely seen by the audience was a theme continued in a specially-commissioned painting in 2004 of Aberdeen Bach Choir at a concert in its home venue of St Machar's Cathedral. Dominating the work in oils of the 130-strong orchestra and choir is James, rear view as always, in formal dress.
His exceptionally quiet demeanour was matched by a rare line in dry wit.
When, at one dress rehearsal a section of "the Bach" failed to make a good entry, he rounded on them: "That widna' knock stew aff a bap."
Teacher, performer, examiner, conductor of the Bach Choir for 37 years and director of music at the city's St Machar's Cathedral for a quarter of a century, Lobban's musical direction shone early.
He made plain that music was to be his career, somewhat to the initial surprise of his parents, George Lobban and Christine Calder. But he prospered at Aberdeen Grammar School, played the organ at 17 in Handel's Messiah and graduated in 1964 from Aberdeen University in music.
Already noted as a pianist, organist, accompanist and bass singer, he formed working partnerships well. An organ master class with Dr Francis Jackson at St Machar's led to an introduction in 1963 to Graham Wiseman, then president of Aberdeen and District Organists Association.
Two years later, he was Wiseman's assistant in music at Inverurie Academy and, within six months, both took the school choir to the Edinburgh Festival.
The following year he gave his first organ recital at St Machar's, and then followed two tours as accompanist to the tenor Wilfred Brown. First contact with the Bach Choir came at Christmas 1965, and within three months Lobban performed the solos in a recital of works by Monteverdi, Buxtehude and Howells, with his teaching boss Graham Wiseman conducting.
It was a performance in which, not for the first time, Lobban showed his ear for perfect pitch, and he proved a natural candidate to take over the conductorship in 1969 at just 26.
Head teacher of music at Hazlehead Academy for the past three decades and producer of many pupil productions, James took the same diligence to examining as he took to teaching, and in 1987 became principal examiner in music for the Scottish Examination Board.
At Aberdeen Grammar, a classmate was Martin Dalby, son of the music academic John Dalby, who went to make a career as a composer. In 1985, the Bach marked its 30th anniversary by having Lobban commission Martin for a piece.
Order mattered in James's life, from his own immaculate appearance to the arrangement of his desk in the music room, and the presentation of his back garden. The same fastidiousness showed through in earlier days in the preparation of his Boys' Brigade uniform and cricket whites.
As a former pupil, he turned out for Aberdeen Grammar 1st IX as a notable fast bowler. Lobban's legacy to his native city is a tradition of commissioning new works by contemporary composers and the establishment with the Bach Choir of a music scholarship to assist talented young musicians from the north-east of Scotland with tuition fees.
He is survived by his brother, Graham.
Reproduced by permission of Gordon Casely
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